Picking up a third successive bonus point victory in all competitions would be the ideal way for Munster to celebrate Donncha O’Callaghan’s achievement of becoming the province’s most-capped player.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, February 15
MUNSTER (1st) v ZEBRE (11th), Musgrave Park, 6.45pm (live RTÉ Two/delayed coverage Sport Mediaset)
Team News: Donnacha Ryan has been named in the Munster team for Saturday night’s encounter with Zebre at Musgrave Park.
Tommy O’Donnell and Felix Jones return from international duty to start as head coach Rob Penney makes nine changes to the side that beat Cardiff Blues 54-13 last weekend.
Ian Keatley and Johne Murphy form an exciting new centre partnership with Gerhard van den Heever and Simon Zebo keeping their places in the side after both touching down against Cardiff. Zebo moves to the left wing with Jones coming in at full-back.
Cathal Sheridan makes his first start since injuring his knee against Ulster last month and partners the in-form JJ Hanrahan at half-back.
Hooker Duncan Casey is the only player that keeps his place in the front row with James Cronin, who is set to earn his 20th provincial cap, and South African BJ Botha coming into the starting line-up.
Captain Billy Holland, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, joins the fit-again Ryan in the second row.
David O’Callaghan comes into the back row for his first start since December, with O’Donnell returning from international duty and CJ Stander moving to number 8 as he maintains his starting berth.
Young Munster hooker Ger Slattery provides the front row cover alongside Ireland international David Kilcoyne and John Ryan.
Donncha O’Callaghan is poised to make a record-breaking appearance off the bench as he looks to gain his 241st cap and become the most-capped Munster player of all-time.
Sean Dougall made his comeback from injury against Cardiff and is also named on a replacements bench that includes Duncan Williams, Denis Hurley and Andrew Conway.
Tickets are available from the ticket offices in Musgrave Park and Thomond Park today until 5pm and from the Ticketmaster van outside the Dolphin Gate on Saturday from 9am.
Meanwhile, Zebre, who face into the second of three straight games against Irish opponents, will have Guglielmo Palazzani at full-back for their maiden trip to Cork.
The uncapped Palazzani, who is part of Italy’s extended squad for their upcoming game against Scotland, has been released to play for his club side.
He replaces Ruggero Trevisan in the number 15 jersey, with Trevisan moving to out-half alongside fit-again former All Black Brendon Leonard.
Another of Zebre’s Kiwi recruits, Dion Berryman, will line out on the left wing. There are three further changes up front to the team that lost 31-8 to Leinster in the previous round.
Loosehead prop Andrea de Marchi comes into the front row and lock Michael van Vuuren and flanker Filippo Cristiano also step up from the bench.
Nicola Cattina and Giovanbattista Venditti are available as replacements for Andrea Cavinato’s men after shaking off their respective injuries.
Permit players Lorenzo Giovanchelli and Giulio Bisegni, who made their Zebre debuts against Leinster, have been retained in the matchday 23.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Gerhard van den Heever, Johne Murphy, Ian Keatley, Simon Zebo; JJ Hanrahan, Cathal Sheridan; James Cronin, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland (capt), David O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Ger Slattery, David Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, Duncan Williams, Denis Hurley, Andrew Conway.
ZEBRE: Guglielmo Palazzani; David Odiete, Kameli Ratuvou, Roberto Quartaroli, Dion Berryman; Ruggero Trevisan, Brendon Leonard; Andrea de Marchi, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini, Michael van Vuuren, George Biagi, Filippo Cristiano, Andries van Schalkwyk (capt), Samuela Vunisa.
Replacements: Lorenzo Giovanchelli, Luciano Leibson, David Ryan, Emiliano Caffini, Nicola Cattina, Alberto Chillon, Giulio Bisegni, Giovanbattista Venditti.
* Please note: Change of referee from Nigel Owens to Dudley Phillips due to the adverse weather conditions.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Dermot Blake (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 1/200; Draw: 50/1; Zebre to win: 22/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Stephen Archer (Munster) – “It’s very important to keep the momentum going. We had a good performance and a good win last week, it was great to get the bonus point.
“But I think if we look at the teams around us in the table, they’ve done the same. There’s no real breathing space for us up there so we just need to keep winning matches and stay on top of that table.
“Last year we didn’t give them (the fans in Cork) much to cheer about. We had a few poor performances and lost a few matches (at Musgrave Park), that was disappointing but this year has been a lot better.
“We’ve had some good performances and got some good wins so hopefully the Cork crowd will come out again now on Saturday and hopefully we’ll give them something to cheer about.
“Zebre are improving the whole time. They’ve a few lads involved with the Italian squad so they’ll have plenty of good players coming back in.
“Like any Italian team they’re fairly confrontational up front and they’re fairly physical so we’ll have to be on top of the set piece and defend well.
“There is a bit of extra motivation, you’re mad to get back into the Ireland set-up. Obviously with the way they’re going it will be tough to get in there but these matches provide an opportunity to show what you can do and hopefully put your hand up.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Munster – Points: JJ Hanrahan 125; Tries: James Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, CJ Stander 3 each; Zebre – Points: Luciano Orquera 84; Tries: Leonardo Sarto 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 26, 2012 – Munster 29 Zebre 3, Thomond Park
Friday, May 3, 2013 – Zebre 25 Munster 27, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, September 13, 2013 – Zebre 21 Munster 43, Stadio XXV Aprile
– Munster’s only defeat in their last 13 games was to Ulster at Ravenhill in the RaboDirect PRO12 on January 3
– The Munstermen are the only side left in the competition with a 100% home winning record this season
– Zebre’s 14 league points so far this season have been evenly split with seven points gained in home games and seven more on the road, including three losing bonus points in their last four away games
– Munster have won all three previous matches they have played against Zebre. This will be the Italian club’s first visit to Musgrave Park